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A Target of Violence


By Mona Gable, Photos by Diana Koenigsberg

Published Oct 1, 2009 8:00 AM


Professor David Jentsch.

More than at any other university, UCLA faculty have been the targets of violent animal rights extremists. The work these scientists do saves lives, and the subjects of their research are treated humanely and with great compassion. But that hasn't stopped the bombs, the death threats or the predations of fanatics for whom no compromise is acceptable.

On March 7, the blast was so strong it shook J. David Jentsch awake at 4 a.m.

Jentsch, a 37-year-old Bruin neuroscientist, lives in a small, cottage-style house a couple of miles from UCLA. He had no idea what it was. But in the darkness he could hear his car alarm wailing. When Jentsch dashed to his bedroom window, he saw a terrifying sight: His 2006 Volvo was engulfed in flames.

Someone had shoved a bomb underneath it.

A half-hour later, some two dozen FBI agents and officers from the LAPD, UCLA P.D. and Santa Monica P.D. swarmed through his house. Jentsch, a professor of psychology and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences who uses animals in his research on schizophrenia and drug addiction, had never heard from extremists. Yet the bombing was the third crime against UCLA researchers by militants since the previous November and followed a long series of similar incidents. Two days later, in a "communiqué" riddled with typos and profanity posted on the Web, a shady group called the Animal Liberation Brigade took credit:


Jentsch gives a treat to one of his subjects. Members of the team bond with individual vervets and, as shown here, must "suit up" severely to ensure the animals are protected.

Jentsch is a piece of human s--- who addicts monkeys to methamphetamines and other street drugs at the University of California at Los Angeles … David, here's a message just for you, we will come for you when you least expect it and do a lot more damanage (sic) than to your property.

Proof of Life

Despite a history of undeniable achievements, not everyone appreciates the role of animals in medicine. In the 1950s, it gave us the polio vaccine. Treatments for diabetes, heart disease and depression came from animal studies. If you've had a blood transfusion, a TB vaccine or an organ transplant, those were made possible by animals. If you're a survivor of breast cancer or AIDS, the drugs you're taking were first tested in animals.

"Everything we know about how cells work, how bodies work, has come from animal research," says Dr. Lynn Fairbanks, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and director of the Vervet Research Colony, who has been a frequent target of extremists.

Animal research at UCLA

Visit UCLA's info page on animal research on campus.

Learn more about animal rights and research from pro-research sites: Americans for Medical Progress, the California Biomedical Research Association and the Foundation for Biomedical Research.

Find out more about the benefits of animal research.

Get more of the Bruin perspective at UCLA Pro-Test, the grass-roots organization for students, faculty and staff.

Learn how animal research allowed UCLA scientists to create a way for paralyzed rats to walk again. See the video from the Today Show.

Read about Pro-Test founder, UCLA Professor David Jentsch, and his efforts to save lives in his guest column at Speaking of Research.

"A lot of young people you'd talk to will think the Iron Lung is a rock group. They won't remember polio. They don't remember smallpox," P. Michael Conn, associate director of the Oregon Health and Science University's Oregon National Primate Research Center and the co-author of The Animal Research War, told NPR science reporter Joe Palca in 2008. "Those are some of the major triumphs of animal research."

Still, animal research is not undertaken lightly. In fact, researchers must satisfy a huge number of requirements to get funding. When scientists at the National Institutes of Health review a proposal, their first concern is the welfare of the subject. Is the simplest model, like bacteria or yeast, being used? If the investigator wants to study monkeys, could she learn the same thing by studying mice? Is the researcher doing everything he can to minimize the impact on the animals? If not, a grant can be rejected solely on animal welfare concerns.

If NIH finds the grant acceptable, the investigator submits an application to a university committee. (At UCLA, it's called the Chancellor's Animal Research Committee and is composed of scientists, veterinarians and community leaders.) In it, the researcher must justify the study in elaborate detail. Is it important for human health? Is it different from other research that's been done? Are the fewest number of animals being used to achieve the researcher's goals? Could the research be done with computer models instead? And that's only part of what the researcher must prove. Once the study begins, the animals are also routinely checked by veterinarians.

In the interest of ongoing dialogue, UCLA Magazine will post substantive comments about the use of animals in research but will exclude personal attacks.